The hotel industry offers many growth opportunities. Here are some tips to help your career.
by ALICIA HOISINGTON
Jenna Smith started her career in the hotel industry as a guest services representative at a front desk for a property in Ann Arbor, Michigan, as a way to earn money while attending college.
“I ended up enjoying and stuck with it,” she says. Now, 14 years later, she has worked her way up to the executive table as the vice president of revenue management for First Hospitality Group. From front desk, to sales, to general manager, to a regional revenue management position, to where she is now, the industry has provided her a rewarding career that keeps her learning something new every day.
“I always knew I wanted to get into revenue management because the impact of the discipline fascinated me,” Smith says. “It’s always changing, and it’s not overly routine. I’m always learning something else, and the day goes by so fast. The learning piece is what keeps me engaged.”
Gerry Chase started his career as a houseman at a hotel when he was just 15 years old. Over his decades-long career, Chase joined Marriott during the company’s early days, eventually working in supervisory positions and then becoming a general manager of a 4.5-star hotel and restaurant in Raleigh, NC, when he was 28 years old. Then, his career took off when he was hired on at Interstate Hotels as a troubleshooting general manager for five full-service Marriott properties. He served as vice president of Interstate from 1981 to 1988 before being recruited to join New Castle Hotels & Resorts as a partner, where he currently serves as president and chief operating officer.
Chase says that respect has always been the key to his career success.
“Show respect at all levels, from investors and owners to the dishwashers,” Chase said. “When that happens, there is a special environment created where everyone works in the same direction with the same purpose and has the desire to respect and succeed at whatever assignment is given.”
Both Smith and Chase credit several key factors that have helped elevate their careers and allowed them to rise through the ranks. They provided the following tips for career success.
Be willing to pay your dues
“The hotel industry offers great opportunities for people to enter and grow,” Chase says. “They have the opportunity to enter a career, pay their dues and advance for a lifetime of rewards. It’s challenging and rewarding at every stage of life.”
The reward potential is exactly why Chase says it’s important that people just entering their careers pay their dues and realize that while it’s commonplace to grow within this industry, promotions won’t happen overnight and reaping those rewards takes hard work and perseverance.
“Work hard and focus on the important stuff,” he says. “It just takes time.”
Smith agrees, adding that having an open mind and making yourself available when your boss needs something can do wonders for moving up in the ranks.
“Be the go-to person,” she says. “When they need something, say, ‘Yes, I can get that done for you.’”
Paying dues is important, but equally important is patience, Smith says.
However, patience can be a difficult virtue to practice in today’s fast-paced world. But, according to research, hourly hotel employees can take solace in the fact that the industry provides a place to grow a long-term career. According to a report from the American Hotel & Lodging Association, 97 percent of hotel companies surveyed reported that at least some of their top executives began their hotel careers as hourly entry-level line employees (See sidebar: “From front desk to C-suite”). Additionally, more than 90 percent of respondents said that new-hire hourly employees are eligible for promotion within the first year of employment.
“You might not always get the first opportunity that comes up,” Smith says. “Don’t get discouraged. If you have good relationships with your boss or others in the company, you will get promoted.”
Connect at all levels with all levels of people
This connection should be done in a positive and useful manner, Chase says, including with bosses, boss’s bosses and guests.
“And peers, too. A lot of times that doesn’t seem important, but it is,” he says. “With that, always show respect at all levels. They are connected, and people don’t realize that is what makes a lot of your success.”
Additionally, Chase says it’s critical to remember that anyone, including those people who you train, can be a connection who you might need to call upon in the future.
“Business friends do not grow on trees,” he says.
Smith says that some important connections come by the way of mentors, who she has seen support from along her career journey, including her dad who she inherited her work ethic from and her current boss at First Hospitality Group, Executive Vice President Wendy Stevens. Smith says that the advice she has gleaned from these mentors has helped to shape her experience and career. For example, the best piece of advice she says Stevens has shared with her: “Harmony is overrated. You don’t ever want to accept the status quo for so long. You want to always be changing and stay up to date on the latest trends and tech.”
Always remain positive
Even when the environment seems a little dark, Chase says that remaining positive is imperative to career success. When things are going wrong, it’s easy to get down and dwell on the negative instead of focusing on the positive. But, as the old adage goes, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. If you leave one job and make a lateral move to another at a different property or company, it can sometimes hinder long-term career growth. Thus, it’s important not to be short-sighted, especially if less-than-ideal circumstances are temporary.
“The path to success will become clear if you work through it, and it will be even better because you weathered the storm,” Chase says. ■
Photo credit: Macrovector/Shutterstock.com
What did you learn during your first job in the industry that has helped you succeed in your current job?
Dealing with guests at a front desk, you have to learn that your goal is to make all of your guests or employees walk away happy. It’s a hard challenge, but you have to try. I keep that mentality in the back of my head and remember it and apply it now. I have to keep guests happy, investors happy, bosses happy. It’s learning to balance and prioritize.
–Jenna Smith is vice president of revenue management at First Hospitality Group and started her hotel career in 2004 at a front desk when she was in college.
Being service oriented and making sure you anticipate the customer’s needs, but really wanting to please people and wanting to serve people. With that desire, it carries in through your other jobs throughout your career. I had an executive ask me one time, and he says, “You know, I have this VP title and some of the people I don’t feel respect me.” I asked if he respects them, and he said that they should do it automatically because he has the title. I said, “No, you have to give to get. You have to respect people to get their respect.”
–Gerry Chase is president and chief operating officer of New Castle Hotels & Resorts, and he started his career in the industry as a houseman when he was 15 years old.